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Instructional Designer Disciplinary-Based Formation of Self

Instructional Designer Disciplinary-Based Formation of Self

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Published by Richard Schwier
The purpose of this study is to gain a better understanding of teaching (teacher perspectives) and learning (student perspectives) across the disciplines in ways that can better prepare instructional designers to work with research-teachers in institutions of higher education.
The purpose of this study is to gain a better understanding of teaching (teacher perspectives) and learning (student perspectives) across the disciplines in ways that can better prepare instructional designers to work with research-teachers in institutions of higher education.

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Published by: Richard Schwier on Apr 14, 2009
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Instructional Designer Disciplinary-Based Formation of Self 
Heather KanukaUniversity of AlbertaKaty CampbellUniversity of AlbertaRichard A. Schwier University of SaskatchewanCite as: Kanuka, H., Campbell, K., & Schwier, R.A. (2009, April). Instructional designer disciplinary-basedformation of self. Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association, SanDiego, CA.
An instructional designer’s story...
 It was the first time I was assigned [as an instructional designer] to work with a faculty member inengineering. I had enough experience working with faculty, preparing their courses for online delivery, toknow that trying to crawl into their heads and understand where they are coming is key to getting thecourse right – and gaining a respectful working relationship. As usual, I began working with this facultymember in his comfort zone: the course content and his research expertise. He had been working for almost 30 years on the ‘zero defect product’. As he explained his research to me I could see he wasconsumed (maybe even obsessed) with solving this problem—I find this is very typical of faculty members I work with. His days revolve around collecting and analyzing data on this topic, applying for grants,writing papers –I’d guess he even dreams about it. And then he mentioned that his obsession with producing the zero defect product slips into how he thinks about his teaching—again this is very typical of  faculty I work with. He explained that when he walks into his classroom he sees another opportunity tocreate a zero defect product: his students. And so while the ‘way’ he was thinking (moving his research intothe classroom – lots of literature on the teaching-research nexus), it was at this point, I thought: ok, yet again, I have to try to figure out the way these faculty [engineers] think. You know, it would have beenreally terrific if I could have had some kind of information on the differences in the disciplines in mytraining for this job [instructional designer], and how we should be working across the disciplines.
The purpose of this study is to gain a better understanding of teaching (teacher perspectives) and learning (student perspectives) across the disciplines in ways that can better prepare instructional designers to work with research-teachers in institutions of higher education. The proposed research will build on existing research by Campbell, et al.(2002-2006), Donald (2002), and Shulman (c.f. 1987), as well as the seminal work conducted by Amundsen(Amundsen, Gryspeerdt, & Moxness, 1993; Saroyan & Amundsen, 1995). The overarching goals are to gain further understanding about (1) instructional designers’ disciplinary-based development and (2) how instructional designers’disciplinary development is linked to instructional design practices. The outcomes of this study contribute to theunderstanding of instructional designers’ disciplinary-based development.
Why study instructional designer disciplinary-based formation of self?
While the use of instructional designers with expertise in pedagogical strategies and technology is becoming wide-spread within the postsecondary sector, careers in instructional design (ID) are not new. Programs of preparation for instructional designers have been offered for approximately 40 years in North America—often at the master or doctoral levels. Prior to the 1980s, the primary role of the instructional designer was to design curricula for instructional books and manuals for corporate training, and/or paper-based distance education materials. However,as computer technologies advanced so too did ID services.
At present, the role of the instructional designer rangesfrom consultation on educational television, and instructional video to development of computer-based instruction, printed media, curricular development and, more recently, eLearning. There is evidence that instructional designershave been pivotal to the growth and success of eLearning offerings in higher education (Bates, 2005). But,designers, programmers, and media developers emerging from this “scientific” field have often learned models thatvalue objective, rational, instrumental, and empirical approaches (Garrison, 1993; Vrasidas, 2001). Critical theoristshave described their products and environments as often prescriptive, restrictive, and reductionist, due in no smallway to the culture they have acquired within their areas of study that include systems and cognitivist views of learning (e.g., de Castell, Bryson & Jenson, 2002). Nevertheless, instructional designers continue to play an important role in shaping the learning experiencesof students, as well as the teaching experiences of instructors in post secondary settings (Bates, 2000). Working withinstructional designers for 10+ years, we have observed that effective instructional designers develop a tacit
understanding of what they need to know to design effective instruction across the disciplines (see also Botturi,2006), and that effective instructional designers develop a sense of how knowledge is constructed in the disciplineswithin which they are working. How instructional designers develop disciplinary-based ways of working not wellunderstood. Gaining an understanding of how instructional designers develop within and across disciplines would bean important contribution in the preparation process of instructional designers with respect to (1) an ability to easetheir transition into the disciplines by gaining an understanding of the culture and diverse ways of knowing and (2)improving acceptance by the faculty members with whom they work. The latter point is of particular importance because it has been our experience as instructional designers in research-intensive university settings that manyfaculty members resist ‘outsiders’ and prefer to work with ‘one of their own’—or those who understand the cultureof their discipline. The drawback to hiring ‘one of their own’ is that these are often individuals who are expertteacher-practitioners within the faculty or department, but have little, if any, knowledge of formal learning theory or effective instructional design practices.
The purpose of this study is to investigate the development of instructional designers’ understanding of disciplinaryways of knowing across the disciplines. One’s disciplinary community largely defines one aspect of the context anddisciplinary culture of academia—although subject matter is only one of several influences on an instructionaldesigner’s development. As most instructional designers in postsecondary education typically have relevant graduatecredentials, they usually possess at least one undergraduate degree, from a social sciences, humanities, science andtechnology, or health-science program. Discipline-specific programs to support pedagogical growth initiated in bothCanada and the US recognize that disciplines differ in regard to their concepts, logical structure, truth claims, andinquiry approaches (Donald, 2002; Shulman,1987). These shape teaching and learning in significant ways. Thus,one might expect discipline
to play an important role in an instructional designer’s discipline-based understandings.In particular, not only do instructional designers need to be become critically aware of their own assumptions(experience, educational background and knowledge about instructional design) in order to be effective andreflective practitioners, but this is also necessary in terms of their interaction with faculty members and their environments, who may not accept and trust them unless they find common ground and believe that designersunderstand their disciplinary problems and ways of knowing. Another important aspect of the
context of  postsecondary education is that disciplines are typically organized into departments and/or Faculties. In exploringinstructional designers’ disciplinary development, it is the ID orientation versus teaching orientation within thediscipline’s department (and/or Faculty) that are of interest.Building on prior research by Campbell, et al. (2003-2006), which investigated experienced instructionaldesigners’ perception of agency, this study extended the research to instructional designers and disciplinary-baseddevelopment.
Theoretical Framework and Relevant Scholarly Literature
This study relies on two theoretical constructs.
 Disciplinary-based pedagogical content knowledge (PCK)
Disciplinary knowledge structures are constellations of beliefs that incorporate values, techniques,assumptions and biases that are shared by the members of a given community (Kuhn, 1970). These sharedknowledge structures within disciplines also include notions of research traditions, a common ontology and researchmethodologies with knowledge and values interwoven in the traditions of our educational lives and intellectualdevelopment (Gudmundsdottir, 1991). In this study, we frame these knowledge structures and traditions asnegotiated realities within an historical disciplinary context that is shared in socially-mediated forms such asarguments, texts, learning activities and forms of assessment, as well as conversations and interactions amongfaculty, learners, instructional designers, and others engaged in the development and delivery of learningexperiences.Prior research has revealed important insights on the intersection of disciplinary pedagogical and contentknowledge (c.f., Lee, 2004). For example, trained teachers (e.g., content experts with a bachelor of education or certified teachers) approach problems within their disciplines differently than trained researchers (e.g., contentexperts with research training, such as a PhD) due to their understanding of the pedagogical implications of learningwithin their disciplines (c.f., Borko & Putnam, 1996; van Driel, et al, 1998). Studies have also examined the practical connections of PCK to the disciplines (Hashweh, 1987). These studies examined the value of attempting toteach this principle (the need to connect pedagogy to content) to prospective instructors. An overview of thisliterature reveals changes in educators as a result of developing PCK. Noteworthy in the empirical research reviewed
 by van Driel et al (1998) is that there is also value to having disciplinary experts study subject matter from ateaching and learning perspective. Likewise, research has also shown the importance of PCK in teaching (e.g., Gess- Newsome et al., 1993; Smith & Neale, 1989). Frost and Jean (2003) concluded that understanding interdisciplinaryapproaches will result in fuller understandings resulting in a stronger bond within the university and academia.Healy (2000) concludes further that academics tend to maintain stronger disciplinary, rather than institutional, ties because they have different values, goals, approaches towards teaching and research, and ways of communicating.Emerging research on designing effective eLearning is beginning to reveal that subject differences could be animportant confounding variable (Arbaugh, 2005; Jones, Zenios, & Griffiths, 2004), though a review of the literature by Tallent-Runnels et al (2006) shows there is a void in the research on how eLearning differs across the disciplines.In regard to disciplinary differences, early research by Becker (1989; see also Becher & Trowler, 2001;Biglan, 1973a; 1973b) identified four disciplinary dimensions, including hard/soft, pure/applied within the cognitiverealm; convergent/divergent and rural/urban within the social realm of communities and networks. However, withinthe field of higher education in Canada, the most significant literature on this topic is the extensive researchconducted by Donald (2002), which aimed to reach a deeper understanding of the thinking approaches taken indifferent disciplines and the application of these approaches to student intellectual development. Results of Donald’sresearch reveal important differences in thinking, validation processes and learning activities between disciplines.Although her research is not focused on the theory and practice of instructional design, the results have implicationsfor the field of ID. The proposed study will build on the disciplinary differences identified by Donald.
 Emerging notions of instructional design practice
A substantial body of literature in ID concentrates on how instructional designers should systematically practice their craft through the application of models (e.g., Dick, Carey & Carey, 2005; Morrison, Ross, & Kemp,2004; Shambaugh & Magliaro, 2005). In part, models of instructional design (e.g. Instructional Systems Design)have helped ground instructional designers’ professional identities as practitioners. For example, when Bichelmeyer,Smith and Hennig (2004) asked instructional design practitioners what ID and technology meant to them, manyanswered by describing the ADDIE model, or systematic design of instruction. Perhaps less experienced designerstalk about tasks and technologies rather than larger implications of their work, signaling developmental levels(Schwier, Campbell & Kenny, 2004). However, the worth of these models and processes has been called intoquestion many times and for several reasons over the years (Gordon & Zemke, 2000; Molenda, 2003; Rowland,1992).Recent research examining the actual practice of instructional designers suggests that designers do refer toconventional processes when describing their work, but practice varies significantly according to context (Cox,2003; Cox & Osguthorpe, 2003; Kenny, Zhang, Schwier & Campbell, 2005; Rowland, 1992; Visscher-Voerman &Gustafson, 2004). Other critics argue key aspects of ID have been overlooked in conventional literature. For example, Gibbons (2003) argues that we need to re-examine the assumptions and foundations of instructional designand align it more closely to other design sciences, while Wilson (2005) further suggests that craft and aestheticissues, while important, haven’t been included in our training or incorporated meaningfully into our practice. Thecontinuing focus in our field on “models” of ID may have a detrimental impact on both what we research and whatwe teach and fail to contribute to the novice designer’s formation of Self as a moral, ethical actor. Based on a three-year study of twenty instructional designers in Canadian universities, Campbell, Kenny and Schwier (c.f. Campbell,Schwier & Kenny, 2005; Schwier, Campbell & Kenny, 2007) have recently proposed that clients (usually facultymembers) working with instructional designers in development projects engage as learners in an agentic process of  professional and personal transformation that has the potential to transform the institution. That is, they argue thatthe ID process, in which faculty, designers, and others develop new ideas and understandings through conversation,is a powerful form of cultural or collaborative learning (Schwier, Campbell & Kenny, 2004). There seem to bemultiple reciprocating or overlapping communities of practices in the process of ID—the community of designers,the community of the client’s academic discipline, and the teaching-learning community within which projects areembedded.This study focuses on one problem of practice for designers working within the disciplinary communities of specific academic departments, which is how instructional designers form, from their generic training, anunderstanding of these disciplinary ‘shared values and beliefs’ within a discipline or across disciplines in order towork more collaboratively with faculty for more effective and productive learning outcomes.
Data Collection and participants
This study is the pilot study of a three phase study, intended to develop and refine the research protocols, i.e. primary data collection and analysis methods. The data were collected using open-ended questions aimed to

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